Rules provide ‘dos and don’ts’ of HR

New rules apply to all HRPA members, but not all HR professionals
By Shannon Klie
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/04/2009

The Human Resources Professionals Association’s (HRPA) rules of conduct for HR practitioners are a sign the profession is growing up, according to the association, which regulates the profession in Ontario.

“Professions usually start out focusing on entry into practice. As professions mature, they tend to focus more on conduct,” said Claude Balthazard, director of HR excellence and acting registrar for HRPA.

The rules apply to all HRPA members and set out the duties of HR professionals towards employers, clients, employees, other professionals, the profession and the public. They are meant to be used by practitioners, as well as employers and the public, to ensure they are conducting themselves appropriately, said Balthazard.

“At the end of the day, the rules were meant to reflect what good practice is,” he said. “We’re hoping that most practitioners are doing this already.”

The rules, which come into force June 1, incorporate the association’s code of ethics, providing greater behavioural specificity to the seven principles laid out in the code. (See sidebar on page 6.)

“Codes of ethics tend to be broad statements or broad guidance in terms of what is appropriate professional behaviour. Essentially the rules of professional conduct are much more specific in certain areas,” said Balthazard.

Something that might be new for some independent practitioners, or consultants, is the requirement of professional liability insurance. There is also a self-disclosure requirement that requires members to inform HRPA if they have ever been subject to professional discipline by any professional body in Canada or if they have been convicted of a criminal offence.

These rules set out the “dos and don’ts” of professional practice and better define the line between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour, said Balthazard. That clearer definition also provides guidance for complaints.

“We need the rules of professional conduct to bolster the complaints investigation and discipline process,” he said.

In most professions, there is a continuum of discipline, starting with reprimands and progressing to cautions, then setting terms on membership, suspension and, finally, revocation of membership.

While not every breach in the rules will lead to professional discipline, hopefully these rules will get more people thinking about conduct and encourage them to speak up when a practitioner isn’t behaving appropriately, said Balthazard.

HRPA is updating its complaints, disciplinary and appeals procedures and details should be available online in the next couple of months. Since the inception of the designation, no Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) holder in Ontario has ever had his designation revoked, said Balthazard.

The creation of the rules is a timely and important step in the HR profession, said Naresh Agarwal, a professor of human resources at McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business in Hamilton.

“It brings the human resource management profession closer to the level of other established professions, like chartered accountancy, like medicine, like engineering and so on,” he said. “If you are a regulatory body, then you have to have rules of professional conduct for your members and then monitor compliance with it and set up disciplinary procedures.”

However, there is one key difference between the HR field and other professions, said Agarwal. Only people who hold a medical license can practice medicine and only those with an accounting designation can work as an accountant. So if a doctor or accountant is found guilty of professional misconduct and his license or designation is revoked, he is no longer able to practice.

But in HR, there are many people working in the field without a CHRP designation or even membership with a professional association, such as HRPA, said Agarwal.

“These rules of conduct are not going to apply to them,” he said. “The ideal situation would be where the CHRP becomes a mandated requirement for HR professionals. Then these rules of conduct clearly would have much greater impact on the field as a whole.”

The rules contain specific required and prohibited behaviours for practitioners who are employed by an organization, work independently, such as consultants, and who represent an individual or organization at a tribunal or board.

However, some of the language could be more clear and specific, said Agarwal. For example, under “competence,” one of the rules states “a member shall prevent the inadequate use and application” of HR tools and techniques.

For this rule to be properly applied, HRPA should define “inadequate” and give members an idea of how they are supposed to stop someone, he said.

“In order for these rules to do their job, they need to be defined in a way that you can implement them,” he said.

Code of ethics

7 guiding principles

The Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) has a code of ethics that sets out the principles that guide members’ conduct. The new rules of professional conduct incorporate the code and lay out specific behaviours for each of the seven principles.

1. Competence: HR practitioners must maintain competence in carrying out professional responsibilities and provide services in an honest and diligent manner. They must ensure that activities engaged in are within the limits of their knowledge, experience and skill. When providing services outside one’s level of competence, or the profession, the necessary assistance must be sought so as not to compromise professional responsibility.

2. Legal requirements: HR practitioners must adhere to any statutory acts, regulations or bylaws that relate to the field of HR management, as well as all civil and criminal laws, regulations and statutes that apply in their jurisdiction. They must not knowingly or otherwise engage in or condone any activity or attempt to circumvent the clear intention of the law.

3. Dignity in the workplace: HR practitioners support, promote and apply the principles of human rights, equity, dignity and respect in the workplace, within the profession and in society as a whole.

4. Balancing interests: HR practitioners must strive to balance organizational and employee needs and interests.

5. Confidentiality: HR practitioners must hold in strict confidence all confidential information acquired in the course of the performance of their duties and not divulge confidential information unless required by law or where serious harm is imminent.

6. Conflict of interest: HR practitioners must either avoid or disclose a potential conflict of interest that might influence, or be perceived to influence, personal actions or judgments.

7. Professional growth and support of other professionals: HR practitioners must maintain personal and professional growth in HR management by engaging in activities that enhance the credibility and value of the profession.